In short, philosophy played a fundamental role in my conversion to Christianity. And, corresponding with this, we have seen in the last century a re-definition of “freedom” in the political sense. Both tried to find a different foundation for morality—one not based on God’s design of the world. The very idea that we are designed with a particular end in mind becomes unworkable. There is a fair set of rules for everyone. We have within us, in an inchoate way, a moral template for the development of our conscience—Aquinas called this “synderesis”—which, under proper social conditions, unfolds our moral sense of right and wrong. Hill holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and a law degree both from Georgetown University. They thought the world was governed by a certain “Providence” and used the term “Logos,” i.e., “logic” or order, to describe this pattern or design for the world. You need to adopt some underlying decisions about what to achieve, and the reasons for doing so. And it fails to understand that we can, individually and collectively, “lose sight” of the law. Here was a worldview promulgated by intellectuals who thought they could create their own order. We are selfish and insecure by nature. There has to be something outside the bounds of human agreement that grounds and limits our morality. All the things that are good for us are celebrated, rather than focusing on negative things. Does the commandment, “Thout shall not kill” preclude capital punishment? For example, think about Soviet era communism. There is no justification for…, New history of Catholics in the United States full of scholarship, insight, humor, Chinese Patriotic Association announces ordination of new bishop. But the old idea that there is a natural order to things in which we participate was largely gone. It means that there is no built-in human nature. Sometimes, one simply has to do the right action, irrespective of its potential consequences. He lived within a century of Aquinas but challenged the very central assumption of all natural law theory by insisting that there are no forms, essences or universals. The natural law, which is the law of God, cannot be annulled by human sinfulness. Nothing precludes even agnostics and atheists from holding that there is an order to the world and that certain values, ways of living and systems of governing ourselves work better than others. CWR: What is the relationship between the increasing loss of faith in God in the West and the decline of natural law? How did their approach affect the formation and ordering of modern political states in the West? It is a contradiction in terms because (to the contemporary mind) “law” is what we have to do while “natural” is what we want to do. The first objection is that natural law cannot be true because, when we look around the world at the moral outlook of different cultures now and throughout history, we find a dizzying variety of practices and opinions on such things as abortion, infanticide, homosexuality, etc. It was this idea—that things of a certain class or species share a specific nature and an essence—that William of Ockham attacked. Dr. Hill: There have always been non-Christian—even non-theistic—natural law thinkers. Certain actions—murder, for example—simply are wrong irrespective of the (occasionally beneficial) consequences that might follow from a particular act of killing. "The natural law is immutable and permanent throughout the variations of history" (CCC#1958) because it is based on God-made essential human nature, which does not change with time or place, rather than man-made cultural developments, which do. Natural law tradition holds that the world is ordered, intelligible and good, that there are objective moral truths that we can know and that human beings can achieve true happiness only by following our inborn nature, which draws us toward our own perfection. The form of humanness unfolds as a human person develops. But it is at least logically possible that the world works in certain ways and not others, irrespective of whether God exists. In some ways, our moral and political system is still based on the natural law but we have, since about the eighteenth century, become, as a civilization, intellectually estranged from the natural law tradition. Thus, we cannot say that every human being—regardless of his stage of life (e.g. Dr. Hill: Chapter 8 of my book describes the trajectory of modern moral thought after the natural law. And this “ought” is at one with the kinds of actions that are best for us—that conduce to our happiness, well-being and spiritual development. Basically, by the seventeenth century, natural law became associated with two distinct ideas—one moral and one scientific. It is literally our underlying human nature that is realized through the development of the material (biological) process in reproduction, birth and growth. This, in turn, winds up undermining many of our traditional values including human dignity. What this objection fails to account for is that human beings were made free—free even to depart from the natural law. Even where two people may agree about general principles, there will frequently be disagreement about how to apply these principles on particular matters. They haven’t traced out all of the consequences of their atheism. What makes certain actions right or wrong, on Kant’s view, is a bit more obscure. Natural law in the Enlightenment and the modern era. Dr. Hill: Natural law is the idea that the world is ordered in a certain way, morally and physically, and that we can draw practical conclusions about how to live based upon what we learn about this order. You can’t believe in any real conception of human dignity. Some of the reasons for this are discussed below. We can see from these two objections that the term “natural law” is almost an oxymoron for modern thinkers. Once isolated, each half could not stand on its own. Some of the pre-modern philosophers, including Plato and Aristotle, began to grope their way toward the idea of natural law well before the Christian era. However, devout Christians number in the hundreds of millions in the world today and the Protestant and Catholic Churches are significant players in almost every country’s moral discourse. CWR: What role did natural law and related philosophical matters play in your conversion from atheism to Christianity? The natural, in sum, is what we ought to do, not what anyone does do. One reason for this, by the way, is that the concrete conditions “on the ground” may require different applications for the same general principle. There are only individual human beings with differing capacities. There is no innate moral knowledge. Then philosophers come along, Ockham would say, and mistake this feature of our language for an objective feature of the world. Instead, we simply apply a name to certain things that resemble each other in some way. The History, Enemies, and Importance of Natural Law. Dr. John Lawrence Hill is a law professor at Indiana University, Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, where he teaches constitutional law, torts, civil procedure and legal philosophy courses. Because now there is no such thing as the state of humanness. And you can’t even believe in that most vaunted of all liberal values—freedom. I think most non-Christians—at least if they are thoughtful about these matters—really haven’t confronted themselves with the contradictions of their own worldview.”. Our form or essence gives us our nature. Click here to sign up for our newsletter. And even our natural desires are “ordered to the good.” Aquinas’s natural law theory holds that, when human beings are properly educated, we naturally develop into fully-functioning human beings. But what is freedom? What are the options? Science and morality, the “is” and the “ought” drifted apart and came be seen as two entirely separate spheres of reality. The “moral” portion of the tradition, associated with thinkers like John Locke, began to think of natural law simply as the moral order God had created and imposed on human beings. Thank you for your generosity! Dr. Hill: As you might expect, western thinkers in the early modern period did not throw out natural law theory, root and branch. Dr. Hill: My conversion began when I realized that the many of the things I had been writing about as a philosopher and a law professor required a belief in God. It depends on whether the principle applies only to innocent persons or to those convicted of a crime. meanings of those terms), the thinkers whom natural law theory corrects have scathingly criticized conventional conceptions of justice and injustice, of (more generally) right and wrong, and (most generally) of good and bad in human action, affairs and institutions. But other thinkers after him continued to chisel away at the foundation on which natural law is grounded.